After noting how the sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy, Ross said there are signs that the Iranian regime might be finally open to coming to a deal with the West over its nuclear program.
“If the focus on their economic problems has become more acute, and in a sense what that suggests to me is, again, they may be well increasing their interest in looking for a way out,” he said.
“You look at some of their commentary today that’s emerging, you know, when you have Ministry of Intelligence’s website offering a kind of analysis where it even suggests that diplomacy could make sense, and is obviously better than seeing the use of force — these are not the kind of commentaries you necessarily see in the past.”
“It doesn’t mean that diplomacy is necessarily guaranteed to produce an outcome that we want, but it means in my mind that the chances for diplomacy working and producing something may be greater now than before,” he added.
But, at the same time, Ross said the regime is rapidly moving forward with its nuclear program, which he said is perhaps the most important reason 2013 will be decisive for U.S. policy towards Iran.
“Even though they’re under great economic strain and penalty, their nuclear program continues,” he said.
“And the problem from our standpoint is that the president has made very clear our objective is prevention, not containment — preventing them from having a nuclear weapon, not living with it after the fact. Now the problem is by the end of 2013 if the pace of the current development of the nuclear program continues, we may no longer be in a position to know that we could prevent them from presenting the world with a fait accompli.”
Such a predicament increases “the sense of urgency about getting something done,” he argued.
“The combination of what the impact of sanctions have been, the reality that prevention, if it’s going to have meaning, we may have to act on it before the end of 2013, leads me to conclude that we will see some kind of significant diplomatic initiative by the president, by the Obama administration, on the nuclear issue with the Iranians because no president is going to end up using force without having demonstrated unmistakably to the world and to the American public that we exhausted every possibility before we ended up resorting to the use of force,” he added.
Earlier this week, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was secretly communicating with the Iranian regime for the Obama administration. Though born in Iran, Jarrett has no expertise in foreign policy generally and the Middle East particularly. Asked if he knew whether the report was accurate, Ross said he had no idea but would be surprised if she had taken the lead on dealing with Iran.
“I have no idea whether that’s true,” he said. “I would be very surprised were it to be the case. The administration has plenty of highly skilled people who know the issue and are immersed in it so if there is going to be a negotiation at some point I am quite confident it will include those people.”